Triumph of Consumerism
Harshing The Holiday Mellow
(A Whimsical Environmental Diatribe)
In the panoramic pandemonium of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting —“The Triumph of Death” (1562)—the earth is on fire, a scorched landscape. Armies of skeletons are laying waste to everything and everyone.
In the right bottom corner, as if hoping that their love might save them, a troubadour plays the lute for his lady—the loving couple oblivious to the skeleton who has already joined them in accompaniment.
A few leafless trees, no other vegetation. Ships sink into the ocean.
This is the end, beautiful friend, the end.
Most of you who follow the news have probably heard the shocking story surrounding what happened to this Bruegel painting a few weeks ago.
An action by climate activists was being executed at the Museo del Prado in Madrid—wherein the protestors stuck handfuls of wet mush onto the glass covering the famous Hieronymus Bosch painting, “The Garden of Earthly Delights”.
[The literature handed out by the dissidents explains that the paste was symbolically made of sour cream and onion cricket snacks.]
In response to this chaotic moment, a museum security guard charged at the protestors with a fire extinguisher. Intending to douse them, he slipped and sprayed some foam onto a portion of the famous “The Triumph of Death”painting by Breugel the Elder. Agitated by his faux pas, he pulled off his jacket and wiped the painting.
And thus was revealed a section of painting that had existed— presumably for the past four and a half centuries—beneath the original work. In the days following the media came to refer to this exposed visual cacophony as the “Black Friday Death Patch”
A cultural tsunami of emotion has been raging through the art world ever since—much driven by the histrionics of historians.
Fake news began spreading the idea that the whole incident was made up by some fiction writer.
Just One Analysis.
Renowned soothsayer and numerologist, Zĕna Kōan, has suggested that the date numbers (1562) of the original painting — as she studied them through the shatters of a funhouse mirror—prognosticated that all the events of the painting will indeed come to fruition in either 2156 or 2165.
Clarifying that the use of crystal balls was now passé, she explained her numerical methodology and her conclusions, stressing that “all the other possible number combinations starting with the 5 or 6 would put these horrors way too far off into the distant future.”
She then smiled and added: “I mean—look around you. We’re almost there already.”
Over the past few weeks other elements of the painting—which had never been seen before—seemed to be emerging to the surface.
Museum official Max Tarnow explains: “Fire extinguishers contain what are called “forever chemicals”—simply, they stay around for a long time. It appears the fumes are continuing to have an effect on the painting, revealing more hidden elements.”
“To put it in a way that does sound a bit mystical,” he added—”it seems that the painting is transcending time—peeling away the past and revealing the future.”
The Fowl Theory of Seasonal Consumerism
Working with geese in the 1930s, zoologist Konrad Lorenz explained that imprinting occurs when an animal forms an attachment to the first thing it sees upon hatching.
Born in the township of Wawa, Ontario, Canadian writer and ornithologist Robert Wilson grew up fascinated by geese. (In the Ojibway language of that area, the word ‘wawa’ actually means ‘wild goose’.)
In a paper he presented before the Historic Ontario Nature Klatch (HONK) he proposed that humans, developing as slowly as they do, do not imprint, in Lorenz’s terminology, until the age of two or three.
His thinking went on to suggest that the gifts being showered on very small children (as in during the holiday season) were much like the small fish and aquatic insects brought to juvenile loons by the adults.
He chose the Common Loon as an example “because they are prevalent in this province—and their name makes me think of most humans.”
”In the still warm air just before and after the Autumnal Equinox—just as Canada Geese know it is time to head southward—a similar imprinted instinctual buzz starts stirring to spread throughout the human herd.” (R. Wilson — “Thus Spake Zaragoostra”, Waterfowl Press 2019)
As the human child grows up—and starts to understand that it needs to take on some of the adult responsibilities—it begins converting the simple idea of gifting into the complex reality of—shopping!
The Greeting Card Paradigm (Beyond The Geese)
For homo sapiens, summer adventures and vacations are receding into the past. Autumn arrives with falling leaves and a chilly breeze.
Every cell of which their bodies are composed is preparing itself for the cold weather that is coming.
In magazine illustrations of yore, Mom would have been seen shopping for Mason jars to begin getting canning into full gear—while Dad would have stopped by the Sears and Roebuck store to check on the prices of snow tires.
The little ones, meanwhile, would be off with their schoolbags—scurrying to learn The Three Rs.
One mechanism to keep the shopping instincts finely tuned year after year is for the adults to play the game called Hey, It’s Tradition.
Mr. Nostalgia and Mrs. Sentimentality are invited to brush off their lapels, polish their epauletes, and prepare to infuse the coming days with their potent elixirs.
The original seasonal Haulsnark Greetings™ ® cards—from way back in early agricultural days—showed cornucopias of the harvest, sharing of bounty, and a gathering of all around the hearth.
The Haulsnark AJ™ ® Series (After Jesus) primarily featured the Three Kings, the Star, a manger, farm animals, and a couple of angels.
By the early 20th Century the most popular series of cards were the PCD™ ® (Post Charles Dickens—who was adding guilt and threats of suffering for those who didn’t give generously). The images at this time featured Currier & Ives winter sleigh scenes, families around fancy food spreads, and of course the arrival of Santa Claus.
From then on the slope gets slipperier by the decade.
By the middle of the 20th century, the Haulsnark Shmaltz & Bathos™ ® series has taken hold. Suggesting that it’s a wonderful life, with candy canes and piles of gifts underneath the silver tinseled Xmas tree—there was always a television set nearby. Santa’s elves, snowmen, and furry animals abounded.
The Cutsey’n’Kitsch™ ® line also gained popularity. Flamingos in Santa hats, etc.
Get-em-by-the-box and spend a few hours sending one to every person on your Rolodex became a national holiday pastime. Shiny foil gift wrapping, spray-on snow, and bubbling tree ornaments made everyone exclaim with awe: O Tannenbaum!
Strange Interlude (Eggnog Sprinkled With Dopamine and Seratonin)
Birthdays are the only acceptable individual time to give gifts to friends.
The other holidays are there to keep the candy industry in business.
Or stir up patriotism to get people to support the actions of our military.
But put aside those weird desires throughout the year to just randomly give a gift to a friend.
Save it all up and do it when everybody is doing it.
Sure it smells a bit of being done out of obligation and habit—but think of the boost to the economy!
“Well, I was out shopping for my friends so I got myself a few gifts also.”
Magazine and television ads brought the Big Wide World of Products right into the home — and with it the desire, the pressure for Big Gifting!
A tsunami of Plastic was unleashed upon the earth — in every conceivable form. In the 5000+ year history of landfills, from ancient Crete onward, never were the landfills going to get so much garbage so swiftly.
A six-shooter for Johnny to ward off Injuns.
A pink oven for Sally to put plastic TV dinners into.
Then came farm animals, cars, soldiers, hula hoops, telephones, dolls, dinosaurs, yo-yos, tabletop games, building bricks, puzzles, cartoon figures, balls, game consoles . . . And that was just for the kids.
A record player was spinning the Golden Records yellow vinyl of The Sandpipers singing White Christmas.
The Chipmunks were up next.
Walking In A Landfill Wonderland
Current statistics indicate that in the USofA alone, 26.82 million tons of plastic are put into landfills—every year! (That’s only part of the 139.6 million tons of waste—which includes 30.63 million tons of food.)
Scented candles, mugs, keychains, cosmetics, pet toys, calendars, candy, soap, socks, seasonal-themed items, books written by politicians (or their spouses)—the list goes on and on. What’s on your list this year?
Hark. Do You Hear What I Hear?
Celebratory music had traveled away from the hearth of the heathen and made its way into the frankincensed church—where Masses and Requiems brought forth angelic voices rising up to heaven.
Wasn’t long before Nat King Cole was roasting his chestnuts, Mommy Was Kissing Santa Claus, and the Osmond Brothers had a Xmas special on TV.
Bless those who have never done a Xmas song or album.
Holiday songs continue to emerge from the mouths of entertainers of every genre—unable to stop themselves—committing artistic hara-kiri for the sake of the holiday dollar. Some of the worst songs ever written spill forth like entrails—inescapable—from speakers in retail store ceilings.
Do It For The Kids (Is The Hook)
I certainly did The Xmas Thing—in particular when I was a kid and when I had kids.
When I was a kid — Oh hell yeah. Even though my family didn’t have much money I could count on goodies a comin’! They had me trained and hooked—and like a Common Loon anxiously awaiting feeding time.
[Aside. I had two Christmases. I went to St. George Ukrainian Catholic School in Manhattan. They had a Christmas celebration based on the Julian calendar, on January 6. Parents brought a gift for each kid beforehand and a gentleman (the janitor?) dressed up as St. Nicholas and we were called up to the auditorium stage to receive the gift. I hear I caused a bit of a hubbub because after getting my goodies I did not kiss the bishop/saint’s ring like I was supposed to. Eww.]
When I had kids — Well yeah, you love these little creatures endlessly and you want to show it as much as you can. and the way this capitalist culture is set up you want to BUY them everything they WANT. That’s the deal. It’s Tradition! We kept them away from most of television, but certainly the movies (VHS) did their part in suggesting new STUFF, and their friends filled in with additional goodie-wants.
And so, every Xmas morning, there was usuallly a mountain of packages (some always added by family and friends) awaiting their hyped-up young organisms.
Would I do it differently? Would I be allowed to do it otherwise? How could I escape the cultural hypnosis?
Fed by centuries of tradition — spreading through the various cultures of the species — like the aformentioned geese—we are beckoned—we must submit to the call—spread our wings and consume. And consume BIG!
We are now entering that special, very hungry realm of—Big Wants!
Deck The Halls, Walls, Windows, and The Cat Litter Box
Whether they make sandwiches, repair shoes, or sell automobiles — holiday decorations are de rigeur for retail boutiques.
Each one must search their heart. Each must gauge their customer demographics. And each must decide—do I go with religious, or secular?
The Star of Bethlehem or the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
To not show support for this season, regardless of personal beliefs, is akin to proclaiming cold-hearted curmudgeon-hood, possibly Satanism.
What would Jesus buy?
Giving Thanks an Nourishing WANT
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the appetizer.
Here it comes. Bring them down for the parade or watch it on TV.
Do it for the kids!
Do it for Mr. Nostalgia and Mrs. Sentimentality.
The current celebrities will be there — the products will be inflated into huge balloons.
Representing environmentalism — the Ronald McDonald balloon and the Sinclair Oil Company DINOsaur.
At the very end of the parade comes the starting pistol himself, Santa Claus. Get ready. Get set. SHOP!
Talking The Environment (Here Come Da Harsh)
Lots of that going around.
Scientific threats, political promises.
Every major corporate behemoth has some cute little promotion explaining how they are being “green”—suggesting how their new technology will solve the problems caused by the old.
George Carlin had all those self-deceptions pegged decades ago!
Here—put on these Virual Reality lenses.
Don’t worry, be happy, relax—your car will drive itself. And it will run on electricity— because all these new sources of clean energy will resolve the problems of fossil fuels.
Of course they will.
Whatever you do, stick that candy cane in your mouth, keep it shut, and stop with the suggestions that everyone should cut back and dramatically reduce their “want list”. Especially during this time of year.
Rest assured that the credit cards will be swiped. That food will be consumed in gut-busting quantities among those who can.
Devouring will go on. Alcohol will flow.
More toilet flushes occur over the Thanksgiving weekend in the USofA than at any other time of the year. Think shit. Think water.
As to the millions who can’t do turkey with all the fixings, well, at least most of them now have a smartphone.
Consumer Goods will leave shelves in record-breaking quantities.
Like a time-lapse video of an anthill with an M&M dropped next to it, the rush and maul for the Product will go on.
Like the revealed part of the Breugel painting.
Designed for obsolescence—on the 26th of December, these goods begin their journey toward the landfills.
Talking Garbage Blues
Pete Seegers sums it ALL up . . . HERE!
During this time of year it is very difficult to find a safe space where this virus hasn’t permeated. Not even the local grocery store remains uninfected. “Feliz Navidad” rains down on my basket of foodstuffs.
“Here’s your receipt. Happy Holidays!”
This is a bad dream which will start fading only after a week or two into the new year. Around the same time when all possible surfaces are covered with red hearts and one of the big annual pushes for diabetes is kicked into gear.
It would take a revolution—of the mind and heart—to break this cycle or even to try to reduce it.
It’s a lockstep forward march.
Some want to take this disorder to Mars.
The stampede will be televised and talked about on the evening entertainment news, just as they do about wars.
Look at the craziness they’ll say.
But just below the surface there is an acknowledgment, an addict’s submission, that states—we are incapable of changing this behavior.
So we’ll say we choose it.
This was supposed to be an amusing look at the seasonal insanity that just happens to give me existential angst every year.
Instead, here I am ending this on a ranting note that is guaranteed to harsh your mellow.
[Y’see, I get overwhelmed finding myself getting surrounded by this bizarre groupthink extravaganza every year—this Festival of Waste.
Those behind the wheel proclaim this a Joyride—yet I keep wondering, as I get motion-sickness, if anyone knows where the brake pedal is.
Maybe it’s a fairway attraction called The Stampede of Blind Craving.
Hurry hurry hurry — step right up!
Did I mention that there are approximately 25–30 million real Xmas trees cut down in the USofA so they can die in people’s living rooms.]
Oh never mind.
Decorate and shop away.
I’ll send you my address if you want to send gifts.
Merry f’n Xmas.
In the upper right had corner of Bruegel’s painting there are two skeletons ringing two huge bells.
They toll for all of us.
photos/text © AleXander Hirka 2022. All Rights Reserved.
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